Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Torah perspective on the Jeter negotiations: Do we pay for past performance?

A guest post by the Fanatic Rabbi

The Derek Jeter negotiations are in full swing, and it appears that they are becoming “messy”, as Hal Steinbrenner predicted a couple months ago. For those who are unaware, the Yankees are formally offering the 36 year old Jeter a 3 year $45 million dollar contract. Casey Close, Jeter’s agent, thinks that the offer is ‘baffling.”

I can understand why Close believes that the Yankees initial offer is baffling.  Jeter made $22.6 million dollars last year and is being offered a new salary with a 25% pay cut.  At the same time, however, at $15 million dollars per year, Jeter will remain the highest paid shortstop by a wide margin. Hanley Ramirez, a younger, and arguably better shortstop, is due $11.6 million this upcoming season.

It’s hard to argue that what the Yankees are offering Jeter is unfair. But we must acknowledge and consider the fact that Jeter has been a loyal Yankee, and that during his tenure as “the face of the franchise,” the organization’s value has skyrocketed. Therefore, it may be incumbent upon the organization to offer Jeter an even more honorable salary.

Will Jeter wear pinstripes next season?  Almost certainly.  Will the two sides come to terms that everyone is happy with? Most probably.

Nevertheless, for the time being, it is important to discuss, from a religious perspective, whether the Yankees are required to offer Jeter a contract based on what he has achieved as a Yankee. In other words, does Jeter deserve a higher salary with additional years on the contract based on what he has done for the team in the past? Or should the Yankees compensate him solely based on his current value?

Well, Judaism believes in severance pay. This means that if a Jewish educator is let go after years of hard work and commitment to a school or synagogue, the custom is to compensate the individual with a parting gift to express gratitude and appreciation for his or her service and dedication.

So, yes, there is a concept of paying for loyalty in Judaism. However, the whole institution of severance is only when an individual is being let go from his position. Jeter is negotiating a new contract for 3 years.  The concept of a parting gift or a severance package does not apply when a person is not leaving the organization.

Judaism also believes that a person who cannot contribute on the same level as he once did, is still required to be treated with the same amount of respect and honor that he received when he was able to contribute at his highest level.  The example that tradition uses to support this sentiment is that of the “Shivrei Luchot,” the first set of tablets that Moses destroyed.  Those broken tablets were stored in the ark and the Jewish people were required to treat the broken tablets with the same amount of respect and honor as the 2nd and ‘whole’ set of tablets.  By analogy, the Yankees, then, must treat Jeter with the same amount of respect now as when he was in the prime of his career.

In my opinion, the Yankees are being extremely respectful towards him.  A $45 million dollar deal over 3 years is more than ample- respect. Some may even call the deal excessive. They are treating him as if he is the best shortstop in baseball, and are willing to compensate him with more than his market value.

Jeter has already received over $200 million dollars from the Yankees and he has also made significant money in advertisements. Maybe Jeter is being a bit too greedy?

In fact, if I were Jeter, I would be worried about my image. Yankee fans are known to be the brightest and most passionate baseball fans.  They understand the situation as well as anyone. My feeling is that Yankee fans believe that a $45 million dollars contract is more than fair.  If Jeter and his agent continue to play hardball, he may lose some respect from his adoring fan-base.

From a religious standpoint, Jeter has no legs to stand on.  While Judaism believes in the concepts of paying for loyalty and treating great people with tremendous amounts of respect, even during their decline, the Yankees are not required to offer him any more than their initial offer.

As Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said the other day, let Jeter test the free agent market if he’s not happy with the offer and find another team willing to pay top dollar for his services.

I just hope that this negotiation does not get too messy.

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